Does RFID present privacy risks?

Radio frequency identification technology is becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. But some worry that it's also increasingly susceptible to hackers, who could steal personal information during seemingly innocuous transactions such as credit-card payments and the use of RFID-enabled passports, according to a Boston Globe article.

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the Globe that an RFID-enabled passport issued by the Homeland Security and State departments, called a U.S. Passport Card, is vulnerable to wireless attacks.

Americans can use the Passport Card instead of a traditional passport to enter the United States from Mexico and Canada by land or from the Caribbean region and Bermuda by sea, according to the article. The card's RFID chip contains a number that corresponds to the bearer's photo and other personal information in a government database.

"The new tags have extreme read ranges," Ozer said. "They can be read up to 30 feet away, and copied and cloned, without people ever knowing."

However, some experts say there is no significant problem with RFID. In InformationWeek's Global CIO blog, Bob Evans, the publication's senior vice president, referred to such fears as paranoia.

"In a world jammed with surveillance cameras, cell phone cameras and imminent smart-grid brains that will scold you for using more electricity than some bureaucrat thinks you should, this paranoia over RFID goes beyond silly to absurd," Evans wrote.

He is particularly critical of legislative efforts to address a problem that he considers minor. He cited a report in Supply Chain Digest that summarized a proposed federal law regarding the use of RFID at retail stores. At one point, the bill would have required that customers give explicit consent to allow a store or government agency to use an RFID reader on items the person was buying. Since then, it's been amended to allow stores or agencies to read the tags they put on items but not tags put there by others.

"So the federal legislation will allow retailers to read RFID tags that they have put on items — now there's a productivity enhancement we can all look forward to!" Evans wrote.

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